According to various studies, Western people spend an average of 10 hours (or more) each week on smartphones, checking them around 80 times every day. We often sleep next to our phones and check them first thing in the morning. We pull out our phones as we wait in long lines, during our commutes, or—admit it—even just in a brief lift ride.
Though smart phones have only been around for a decade, they are now a constant presence in our lives. As Christians, we should attempt to think biblically and thoughtfully about this powerful technology: its many benefits, as well as the potential dangers.
Last summer, the UCC summer book was Tony Reinke's 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. Another Christian who has written thoughtfully about technology is Andy Crouch who recently published The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. In this post, we will mention some of the insights from these books to help us critically think about our smartphones from a Christian perspective.
Because we generally know, and are constantly told by technology ads, of the benefits of smartphones and connectivity (staying in touch, easy access of information, etc), this post will focus more on the dangers and potential downsides to smartphones. Some of this will apply to tablets, computers, and social media more generally.
1. Smartphones distract us
Because of their constant presence and many notifications, smartphones make focus difficult. It is tempting to go to our phones before morning Bible-reading and prayer, or neglect these altogether. Instead of using quiet moments in our day to reflect or pray, we often automatically and unthinkingly check our phones.
Against these temptations, we should fight for the silent, undistracted time with God's Word every day. Rather than let our phones, notifications, and the algorithms of social media determine what we give our attention to, we should be good stewards of our time and focus and be intentional with our smart phones habits.
2. Smartphones affect our conversations and relationships
Christians must be present with people. In our interaction with children, friends, or colleagues, our attention toward them communicates love and consideration of the other. But we are often tempted to turn to our phones to check messages, emails, or the latest news/social media during family time or meetings, communicating boredom and disinterest through our lack of attention.
3. Smartphones make deep reading more difficult
We read much more online, especially on our phones. Because of the well-known temptation to "skim" read on screens, and our often-distracted state caused by our phones, our ability to read deeply—whether for work, study, pleasure, or spiritual edification—is affected.
4. Smartphones (and social media) affect our self-image
Many of the images which come through our smartphones are from social media. While it is great to connect with friends and family, images and posts are often chosen to display only the parts of our lives we want people to see. As such, whether we are posting or scrolling, excessive time spent on phones/social media can be distorting. We can easily be envious and judgmental of what we see, or try to project certain images of who we want to be to hide our insecurities, even (especially?) when we post Christian-themed pictures and quotations. Neither of these habits cultivate generosity or encourage honesty with self and security in the gospel of Christ.
If any of these points resonate with you, consider borrowing a copy of the Reinke's book from the church—we still have copies!
In addition to the books mentioned above, another useful resource for thinking about how smartphones (and technology more generally) affect us is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk In a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle.